I struggled through until spring and realized I needed to get either back to North Bay or head for Toronto where my parents now lived. My Father had been offered a senior position with the Globe and Mail. It was an offer he couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t refuse so they moved to the big city. I decided to follow and hitch-hiked down where I was met with some reluctance. I had little left that you could call belongings and taking over the sofa was not something either of my parents liked. Through a family friend I was able to get hired on at Dunlop Tire and Rubber Company on Queen Street. I started at the bottom. I enjoyed manual labour, but sweeping carbon black off floors was not my idea of a good time. I watched the job postings constantly. The job I lusted after, but one I never expected to have come up shone like a beacon when it was posted. It was a job many wanted, but somehow I got the job! I was now a fork-lift driver! It was the night shift for some time, but I loved getting behind the wheel of that rig. I actually loved getting behind the wheel of anything, but the big old Clarke was a constant source of challenge and fun. I soon became a much better driver. With very narrow spaces between the rows I had to drive, my precision became much more acute. My real problem at the time was street wheels. I nosed around looking for something sporty. I was tired of taking the Toronto transit. I got pre-qualified for a loan from the company credit union and bought the first decent MGB I could find. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even remember itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s year. I do remember it had wonky spoke wheels that needed truing up and it clanked and rumbled along, but it would go if you wanted it to. I also wanted to get back to skiing and noticed that the Canadian Ski Patrol was looking for patrollers near Barrie and Collingwood. I went to the first aid courses and met a number of young guys that were trying to get on at various ski hills. I met a constantly smiling character who was excited about a private club in Collingwood about ninety miles north. The season had just started and we decided to go up and take a look. The patrol leader was an English guy by the name of Bruce Smith. He was said to be tough as nails and I guess he was if you got on his bad side. Both Larry and I were good skiers and Smith asked us to sign up for the Craigleith patrol and he would see we got that assignment. The Sunday we returned from our first trip to Collingwood, Larry, better known as Ã¢â‚¬ËœWoodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, said he wanted to drop in at the Toronto Boat show to see what was new. I have always loved boats and said I wanted to tag along. Who I met at the boat show presented a lot of fun over the next few years. As we walked across the show floor the large yachts towered over us. As we approached one, Larry stopped me and casually said Ã¢â‚¬Ëœtake a look at that!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I looked up and there on one of the boats was a beautiful blonde girl! I actually could not see her face, but the part that was presented to me looked more than attractive! The rest of the evening Woody and I chatted up Jane Parkinson, the lady of the yacht. We talked about lots of different things, but skiing was near the top of her list. We said we were going to Collingwood the following weekend. I quietly told Woody to go along with what I was going to say to her. I told her I had not skied much. The following Saturday morning Jane and I drove up to the ski hill in my Ã¢â‚¬ËœBÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. I did not own skis at the time so had to rent them. We went to ZotterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ski Shop next to the hill. I was standing at the rental counter when the owner, Carl Zotter, spied me and came over. He wanted to know what I was up to and I just said I needed to rent a pair of skis for the weekend. I had raced with his son Werner. Carl told the rental person to give me the best they had. Jane just stood there bewildered. The cat still wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t out of the bag. When we got to the hill I fumbled with the skis, fumbled with the bindings and fell on the way to the lift. On the way up the lift, a T-bar, I nearly fell off twice and succeeded on the third try when the lift got to a short flat section. Jane was frustrated as she helped me get on the lift again. At the top she headed for a hill called Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe BirchesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Looking back that is the last place I would take a novice, but I guess she thought she could guide me down or maybe she just wanted to throw me off at the deep end. I fell twice getting to the top of the hill. She looked down and said I should watch how it is done and slowly follow her. She descended about fifty yards down the hill doing nice snow-plows. She turned and waved me down. I started slowly towards her making a few wide snow-plow turns. She was smiling as I approached her. As I got to her I said that this was boring and got into a tuck and hurtled straight down the hill. When I got to the bottom I slid into a long turn and looked back up. She was nowhere to be seen! I turned just in time to get a large snowball right in the face! It was love at first descent! We skied, snuggled and just did everything young lovers did all winter. In the spring we went to Mosport to the Victoria Day Sprints. We also went to Watkins Glen in upper New York state.
One evening during that first summer while driving around I met a guy by the name of Malcolm Cass. He was sitting beside me at a hamburger stand in a beautiful Austin Healey. The car pulled at my heart strings. This was no ordinary Healey. It looked right except for the wide tires on the rear and the large front tires. The twin exhaust did more to indicated that the power plant had never crossed the Atlantic. Cass had replaced the straight six engine that came with the Healey with a fully loaded 327 Corvette engine and transmission. He found the Healey rear end could not take the torque of the 327 so he put in a Jag rear end. The first time he put the boot to it the spokes on the rear wheels let go. He replaced the rear wheels with Buick steel wheels and Indy gumshoes. He had flared the wheel wells and other than that it looked sorta stock. The engine had a set of dual four-barreled carburetors. He kept one set unhooked with the intent of getting better mileage. I salivated over the car. It took some time, but we struck a deal and the car was mine. I maybe should have said the Ã¢â‚¬ËœrocketÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ was mine!
The summer roared by with trips again to the Glen, Mosport and the Thousand Islands where JaneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s family kept their yacht. Her Father owned a company that produced his yacht designs and sold them in the high-end yacht market. He did not approve of me.
Two events with the modified Healey come quickly to mind. I had driven to the Glen on a racing weekend and decided to head up to the Thousand Islands where Jane was enjoying the sun on her familyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s yacht. I stopped in Watertown to gas up and as soon as I was on the freeway and better than halfway to the border a gold Olds 442 pulled up behind me. He pulled into my blind spot then pulled back behind. He was looking me over. Everyone wanted to have a Ã¢â‚¬ËœgoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ with the car once they noticed the pipes and big tires. Then there they were, large as life in the rearview mirror…flashing lights! The 442 was a ghost car for the state police. I had the top down and just sat there as the stereotypical highway patrolman ambled up to the driverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s door. He was tall, slim and had regulation mirror sunglasses and a Smokey-the-Bear hat pulled down to his eyebrows. Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat you got in her?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ was the first thing he said. Ã¢â‚¬ËœJust a small V8 sir,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I replied as I got out of the car. He naturally wanted to have a look so I undid the hood. I had cleaned the car before I went to the Glen so the chrome shone like it should have. He just whistled. Ã¢â‚¬ËœSmall V8!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ He wandered around the car then just stepped back and again whistled. He mentioned he did a bit of drag racing then dropped the bomb. Ã¢â‚¬ËœI can just give you a ticket now for speeding, but we both know you werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t speeding, or you can race me to the border.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I looked at the 442. The transmission tunnel had no carpeting on it. A very large speedometer rested on the tunnel. The wheels and tires were far from stock. Ã¢â‚¬ËœAnd just to make sure you are trying hard enough, if you beat me no ticket. If I win, you get the ticket.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ He smiled broadly. I liked this guy already. It was a Monday and little traffic was around. We pulled out onto Interstate 81 with him in the flying lane. Ã¢â‚¬ËœAny time you are ready.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I did not get Ã¢â‚¬ËœreadyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ out of my mouth. The Olds began howling up the highway with the rear tires smoking as the back end swayed. The tread was just melting off that beast! I passed him as I hit third gear and continued to pull away right to the border crossing. He came sliding in beside me with the biggest grin on his face. Ã¢â‚¬ËœGad damn that is one hell of a car! The front wheels came off the ground when you took third!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ We both got out of the car and shook hands. I asked if he wanted to drive it and he declined, but he did give me his phone number and said anytime I was back in the neighbourhood and he was off duty heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d take me up on the offer. The second memory didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t end up quite the same. I had been over to JaneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house for the weekend as her parents were on the boat. I had to get to work early Monday morning and decided I needed some proper rest so I headed home late Sunday night. We had been lying around the pool most of the afternoon with friends and a serious amount of beer. I really had no business behind the wheel, but there I was zipping down the expressway headed for home. Suddenly there was a very bright light accompanied by a pungent odor coming from the passenger wheel well. THE CAR WAS ON FIRE! The welding, in fact it had been brazed, had let go between the exhaust manifold and the muffler. Raw flame was filling the wheel well! I pulled the car to the shoulder of the road and down into the gently sloped ditch. I jumped clear and stood back. I had a fire extinguisher in the trunk, but I was afraid the car would blow up. The flames quickly engulfed my treasure. Several cars pulled over wanting to help, but there was little that could be done. The car was totally destroyed. I got something for the wreck, but I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember what it was. The thing I did know was I was still paying for a car I did not have anymore. The meager insurance I had on it did not cover fire, or so I was told. I was again without a vehicle.
There was one story during this time that I guess was a bit humourous and it had to do with racing. I was at the Glen and I had begun taking pictures of the cars in action. Down at the loop at the end of the back straightaway I was perched behind a soft earth embankment on the outside of the turn just after the apex. I had snuck over the fence and stayed low behind the mound as I headed for the corner. The marshals were on the inside of the track well back from the turn. Formula One practice was in full swing. I noticed one marshal waving at me from the corner of my eye, but I just ignored him and kept shooting. I did not at first see a guy in shorts and T-shirt coming towards me behind the bank. He said something and scared the shit out of me. I turned and here he was, just like me, in the no-go zone with a little Kodak box camera! I just nodded and went back to shooting. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t long before one of the cars, a Ferrari with Chris Amon at the wheel got wide and was on the dirt and hanging on for dear life. I did the normal thing…I ducked behind the embankment as the dirt flew over us as the Ferrari slid within ten feet. Once the dust had settled I looked over at the guy beside me. He wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t there! At first I thought he had left our perch until I could hear him yelling for help. He had turned and jumped rather than duck when the Ferrari headed for us! He had jumped right into a very large and deep bramble patch! It had closed right over him! The session was soon over and I stood up and waved to the marshals on the other side of the track. I got to meet my first very angry marshals and watched as they dug this sorry-assed character out of his situation. Looking back it is funny, but at the time it was anything but. It was the first time I had ever been track-side.
Next: Going Detroit and more racing!
Follow the whole Shutter Speed series detailing Allan De La Plante’s travels from rural Ontario to the middle of the Formula 1 circus!